Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Unitarian Universalism . . . a courageous leap of faith

On Sunday Worship Weaver Cathy Finn-Dereki opened the service with words that seemed well worth sharing.  Perhaps we should post these somewhere each December.  (Maybe at Easter-time, too.)

Are you new to the Unitarian Universalist faith? Visits to our service in December may make newcomers scratch their heads. There may be music from the Christian tradition. There may be Christmas tree and a Christmas pageant. There may be symbols, candles and rituals of the other holidays of light that mark this season of shorter days and longer nights: Chanukah, Dewali, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice. At this time of year, our services can look like they appropriate other traditions in a sort of feel-good, politically correct, and at times, simplistic way. The truth is, this UU faith, arising from the unity of two Christian denominations, is in its infancy. We are as young as Christianity was at the time when the first known New Testament gospels were penned. We are still building together own path to a lasting truth with which our ancestors, in all of their more recognizable traditions, expressed an understanding of life and death, the meaning of creation, the and humanity’s role in it. Coming into the UU religion at this early time is a courageous leap of faith. With the guidance of our ancestors in every tradition, we invite all to join in building a tradition that breathes, changes, and grows, that our children can take with them and make their own, a faith as enduring as the human spirit. 

So . . . what are your thoughts about Unitarian Universalism as blazing a new trail?  What seems most important about this season to you?


Monday, December 9, 2013

Is the US Spiritual Bankrupt? A UU Response

One evening in early December, our Ministry Associate, Alex McGee, went to CATEC (Charlottesville Area Technical Education Center) television station.  There, she and three other women religious leaders were interviewed on the question of whether our country is in spiritual bankruptcy.  The show will be aired four times on Channel 13 during the week of December 16th: on Tuesday 10-11 PM; Wednesday 7AM-8AM; Thursday 1PM-2PM; and Saturday 3PM-4PM. 

If you are able to watch the show, Alex would love to know how you would have answered the questions!  Even though she’s had lots of practice, it was one more chance to describe Unitarian Universalism in 60 seconds or less.  How would you do that?

Maybe we could start a conversation here?

Friday, December 6, 2013

Wondering About Worship

Okay.  So this blog isn't going to turn into an advertising mechanism for announcing one survey-like thing after another.  I promise.

Still . . .

One of the things the Committee on the Ministry is doing is initiating a way of intentionally seeking feedback and input from the congregation in a more mindful way than simply standing around in the Social Hall after worship on Sunday and listening to whoever decides to come up and talk about whatever's on their mind at that moment.  (Don't get me wrong.  The members of the COM -- Ann Salamini, Pam Philips, Al Reynolds, Deborah Rose, Kathy Philhour, and Donna Baker -- will continue to do that!  Contact them any time, about anything.  Really.)

So each month, prior to our monthly meeting, they will host a congregational conversation after Sunday services on a particular aspect of the ministries here at TJMC.  This will be the same topic area we'll be looking at at our meeting, and the goal of the congregational meeting is to elicit more input from more of the congregation.  (Makes sense, right?)

The first of these conversations will be this Sunday -- December 8th -- and the focus will be Worship.

Now here's a thought . . . if you like what we're doing in our worship on Sundays . . . heck, if you love what's going on in our sanctuary week after week . . . you should show up to this meeting.  You can be pretty sure that folks who have a complaint or concern are going to be there, and well they should.  But it's important that we not simply assume that our positive comments are being heard unless we speak them.  And note, too, that this is more than just an opportunity to talk about your feelings about how our ordained clergy person is doing, this is a chance to talk about anything and everything concerning worship -- the music, the color of the walls, the presence (or lack thereof) of children, the length, how the collection is taken, etc., etc., etc.

So if you have any constructive  thoughts -- positive or negative -- about our worship life, please make a point of attending one or the other of the COM's congregational conversations about worship.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

How Are We Feeling?

Continuing on yesterday's theme of strategic plans, and visions, and long-range thinking . . .

This week word went out that the Board of Trustees voted to sponsor a "pulse survey" of the congregation.  This is, really, pretty much what it sounds like -- a way to take the pulse of the congregation.  Many congregations do something like this and, just like the medical method of taking a pulse, it's a pretty painless exercise.

Surveys are, of course, tricky things, and there are all sorts of dangers and pitfalls inherent in them -- questions can be written so as to nudge people toward desired answers, data can be interpreted in the best (or worst) possible light, etc.  What's great about a pulse survey is that it doesn't pretend to be a full diagnostic work-up.  It's a method for capturing a quick snapshot of a particular moment in time.

As such, it's real usefulness comes over time -- a tool like this, used consistently over many years, allows for the observation of trends and patterns.  While any one year's results may not warrant a complete overhaul of what we're doing and how we're doing it, looked at over time a broad-brush picture of how things are going will emerge.  Combined with other data collection -- this year's strategic planning process, and the plans the Committee on the Ministry is developing to evaluate both the performance of the minister and the health of TJMC's ministries, for example -- we'll have the tools we need to asses the health of our congregation and our mission.

Pretty exciting stuff.

The Survey will only be open from December 1st, 2013 and December 15th, 2013.  (Remember, this is intended to be a quick snapshot of a particular period of time.)  It's available online at Pulse Survey  yet for  those who would rather take the survey in person or who might not have access to a computer the survey will be available in the social hall between and after services on December on the 8th and the 15th.
The Committee on the Ministry analyze the survey results and, then, report to the board and congregation in early 2014.  Do take the very few moments it takes to add your voice.
PS -- thanks to Board member Marlene Jones for really championing the use of this tool.  She did the research into how (and why) pulse surveys are used in other UU congregations, and she kept this on the Board's radar.  (Not to mention doing the work of actually getting it up and running!)  Thanks, Marlene.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

TJMC's 2020 Vision

It's begun!  And it's inspiring.

Early this fall we held an exciting kick-off event for this year's Strategic Planning initiative.  Folks came to hear about the plan, to begin offering input, and to learn about ways to be involved.

What is, perhaps, most exciting about this year's process is that there's no desire to "reinvent the wheel."  We know that there've been strategic plans in the past.  We know that there have been surveys galore.  We know that there have been task groups that have been doing important work.  (The recent Staffing Task Force and the on-going Facilities Task Force are just two examples.)  While there are those who feel that all this good work has been lost or ignored, this year's strategic planning process is intended to incorporate and build on all that's come before.

And, so, six areas have been identified:
  • Lifespan Faith Development/Worship/Spirituality
  • Outreach (which includes Social Justice)
  • Stewardship
  • Communications and Marketing
  • Facilities
  • Governance and Staffing
Each of these areas has a facilitator who has been gathering a small group to look into the history and see what's been said and done in the past, as well as to begin to develop a current vision of where we may want to be as a community in 2020.  Each group will use its own particular focal point as a lens to look at the whole church, and each will develop a statement that will be woven together with the statements of all the other groups.  Throughout this process -- beautifully depicted by Breck Gastinger in the image above! -- the congregation as a whole will have opportunities to provide input, especially when we're discussing the vision that emerges.

And, as I said, it's begun, and its inspiring.  I've been in on early conversations of the Lifespan Faith Development/Worship/Spirituality group, the Communications/Marketing group, and the Governance/Staffing group.  Others, I know, are moving along too.  It's exciting to see our community actively, and enthusiastically, charting its future course.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Lasting Witness

I did something remarkable yesterday.  I help a woman, her husband, and her children grieve the death of her mother.  The woman had lived to the age of 101, and we were scattering her ashes in our Remembrance Garden.

That, in itself, is actually not that remarkable.  That is, after all, what the Remembrance Garden is for.  If you've never spent any time there, do.  It's a lovely place, with its beautiful plantings, its koi pond, and its walls adorned by the names of members who have joined the Great Cloud of Witness.  Sit there for a moment, on one of the two wooden benches, and feel the love.  It's palpable.

So scattering ashes in the Remembrance Garden is not all that remarkable a thing.  But if you ever find yourself thinking that this community exists only in the present, that it consists of what we're doing here and now, listen to what Paul Harvey liked to call, "the rest of the story."

The woman I was ministering to had lived here in Charlottesville in the mid 60s while going to Mary Baldwin College.  She moved away for a time, but was back in the mid 70s.  Her second son was born here.  She met her husband in C'ville, and they married . . . right here at TJMC.  Her mother had moved here from Florida to help her daughter and her family.  And even when they all moved to Arkansas, the mother continued to live in Charlottesville, and continued to attend TJMC.

In 1999 the mother, whose name was Marjorie, had a small stroke.  The daughter, who by this time was living in Texas, convinced her mom to move down there with them.  And that's where she was when she died on November 20th, at the age of 101.

What's remarkable is that this family wanted to come and have their matriarch's ashes scattered here.  The daughter hadn't  been here in over twenty years; Marjorie herself hadn't been here in well over a decade.  One grandson is now living in New York; the other in England.  Yet all agreed that it was here that they wanted to lay her to rest.  (And the daughter and her husband told me that they'd like to come here too when their days are through.)

There was a community here back then, at the top of Rugby Road, that gave that family such a sense of "home" that it was here they wanted to return.  And what we do here today may not be fully appreciated until twenty, or thirty, or fifty years hence.  We are part of a river, flowing from the past into an unknown and unknowable future.  What we can do now, as they did then, is make the best of what we have be given so that it'll be here for those to come.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Mid-Week Worship

Each Wednesday there has been a mid-week worship at 11:45 am.  When the weather permits, it is held outside at our beautiful labyrinth.  As the weather gets colder some may prefer not to brave the elements, yet that doesn't mean you need to write off this opportunity to add a worshipful time to your week.
Beginning this week, we'll have an option to engage worshipfully within the sanctuary, to know it as the holy space it is on a time other than Sunday mornings.
Folks can walk the labyrinth first if they like, or spend all of their time in the sanctuary.  Either way, you're encouraged to walk  through the church’s Remembrance Garden. You might like to pause for some time in this space.
Beyond the Remembrance Garden, you are invited to enter the sanctuary through the front doors (the rugby Road doors) of the church.
Once inside, please do what you need to do to make the sanctuary and this time yours.  Take your coat off and let your body, mind, heart and spirit settle.

  • Sitting in a pew, on the floor, on the chancel, on a meditation bench, in the balcony… perhaps moving and sitting in more than one spot.  Lay down on the floor if you like.  Stretch. Do yoga.  Practice fully embodying yourself and this space.
  • Use your journal if you brought one. There is also paper and pencil available on the chancel.  
  •  Light candles of Hope and Remembrance.
  • Write in the Sands of Atonement and Forgiveness—and as you release what is binding you, wipe the sands clean.
  • Use the aisles of the sanctuary for walking and experience an indoor walking meditation.
  • Use the finger labyrinths for meditation.  Try them with your eyes closed, your non dominate hand, using both hands at the same time on the double labyrinths.
  • Use the readings and meditations provided for reflection and deepening or find your own in the Hymnal.
  • Explore the altar, smell the flowers, let yourself take in all this beautiful space has to offer.
And when you are ready, say a prayer of thanks and gratitude and go about your day feeling held by and connected to the Spirit of Love that sustains us all.
"In the name of all that's holy, and in all the Holy Names that have ever been uttered (and those not even yet imagined), we say:  Blessed Be, Namaste, Asalaam Alaikum, Ashé, Shalom, and Amen."

Monday, November 18, 2013

Thanksgiving in a Nation of Immigrants

In preparation for yesterday's service, Worship Weaver Mike Ludwick wrote a longer "exploration" than was shared in the sanctuary.  Time does not always allow for everything we'd like to include.  Here, then, is the larger context for the thoughts he shared:

“Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.” -- Jane Howard, "Families"

We’ve been hearing this quote a lot this month. It’s a good one. It highlights the power of what people coming together can do for each other. We all want to feel that we have a place within a larger community. We all want to belong.
Just like any power, though, the power of clan, network, tribe, family (or church as Rev. Wik likes to add) can be used in harmful ways also. Once people identify themselves with a particular group, there is a possibility over over-identification with the group, an allegiance to the group above all others.  It can happen with families, ethnicities, political parties, nations, churches. We’ve heard about “the old boys network” limiting the rise of women in the workplace. The term “The Family” itself can conjure up images of a network of organized crime or gangs that do protect the members of the group, but for rather unsavory purposes. Animosity, feuds, and wars have pitted one group against another.  These groups are often used to obtain and maintain power. Surely we need some qualifiers.
American history, and I suppose world history, is fraught with tales of clans and tribes seeking power and wealth. And once power and wealth are achieved, attempts are made to expand or at least maintain that level of power and wealth. Europeans came to the Americas, already discovered by native peoples, and began to colonize. The Europeans were immigrants to a land, new to them. Waves of immigration continued for hundreds of years, forced immigration for some, voluntary for others. I’ve been fascinated scouring through ancestry.com finding ancestors who traveled from Italy, France and Lithuania to come to America. My wife Suzanne and I both seem to have ancestors from Alsace, France. Time for a visit! J

The song “Lady of the Harbor” (above) does a bit of romanticizing about earlier waves of immigration. Similarly for those of you who remember Schoolhouse Rock (segments between Saturday morning cartoons in the 70’s) there was a song about immigration called “The Great American Melting Pot”(at the end of this post) which still makes me cry to this day. With either of these songs one would never think that previous immigrants were feared, despised or discriminated against because of their foreign ways and culture. You would think that all were welcomed and melted right in. But anti-immigrant sentiment has been a staple throughout our history. “These people are not of our clan, or our tribe, or our family, or even our church and therefore they must be feared and distrusted. And if enough of them arrive and then vote they might even gain power over us, the dominant tribe, attempting to conserve power.” “Lady of the Harbor”, though, does recognize our current struggle with immigration and warns us about falling into our fears and turning our backs against the Lady of the Harbor, who today might be called the “Lady of the Desert”.
UUs have been in the forefront of immigration reform, engaging in non-violent civil disobedience, advocating for more compassionate policies that don’t separate family members from one another, such as the Dream Act, that allows children of immigrants who were brought to America to remain here. At times some in our movement have been highly critical of those who oppose our views. It may be easy for us, far from those in the American Southwest, to judge those who have seen violence and fear for their security due to illegal immigration. A drug cartel might be type of clan or tribe, but it is hard to argue it is one we need. Those people closest to the situation have legitimate concerns, even if the language some have used about “drug running Mexicans” with “cantaloupe-size calves” is hateful to us.
So what are we to do? John Lennon said, “Imagine there no countries…” should all the borders be completely open? Or should we follow the advice of others and build more walls and fences to lock down the borders, fill up the jails and continue mass deportations that are occurring in this administration?  Or are there other ways to deal with this issue? Whitman calls us to wish good will to all people and we do. We believe that every person has inherent worth and dignity. But does everyone have the right to come to America? What is just?
Family and immigration issues were front and center last Sunday when I had the pleasure of hanging out with our young adult group. I played “Lady of the Harbor” for them and we had a really great discussion. I brought up the dichotomy between the romanticized ideas of earlier waves of immigration referenced in the song and the notion that today we face decisions about locking down borders and filling up jails, when really anti-immigrant sentiment has been a staple throughout American history. The young adults had a lot to say. They spoke about how some of the policies of our country have led to economic situations in other countries that have encouraged migration.
About how closed borders make it difficult for those who want to be migrant laborers: those who want to work here for a time, and then go home.
About how the prison-industrial complex has a vested interest in thwarting reform and keeping people in jail, to keep their profits up.
About how the US really has no interest in the “huddled masses” anymore, as shown by the differences in immigration experiences between those with wealth and high-level skills, and those without.
About how European immigration devastated the Native American population.
About how people remember Ellis Island, but tend to forget Sullivan’s Island, the port in Charleston, South Carolina where about 40% of the enslaved Africans who came to British North America experienced forced migration.
All very compelling points… and then what some shared was much closer to home and personal than I expected.
One person mentioned several family members who had actually been deported and how in order to help prove their parents were really married--and not just married in order to stay in the US—they broke open boxes of their family photos and made a photo album specifically for the officers from the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
One person related the fact that once their student visa is up, there is very little prospect of them being able to stay here because a prospective employer would have to prove there were no Americans able to fill the position.
Our discussion ended with some thoughts that while “locking down borders and filling up jails” is not the right answer, neither is completely open borders: there must be some practical solutions in between.
As it is now, people and families are suffering.
Our UU values also lead us to the use of the small “d” democratic process to come up with solutions and make these decisions. But what seems to be happening in America is that the clans, the tribes, the parties are trying to limit the ability of others to vote which violates democratic principles in order to hold on to power. Voter “integrity” laws around the nation are widely known to be purposely constructed to make it more difficult for minorities, students and low-income people to vote. In Pasadena, Texas the eight-member council elected by ward, now has two Hispanic members of the council. In an attempt to limit more Hispanic representation, the town plans to reduce the number of wards to six and elect two members “at-large”. Since the non-hispanic population is larger than the Hispanic population, those at-large members are more likely to be non-hispanic.  Nationally, we may have a significant majority of American who want comprehensive immigration reform, but because of the way congressional districts are drawn to protect incumbents by creating safe districts for both political parties and thus limiting the need to compromise, the will of the majority can be thwarted. Family, clan, party, religion, can bring people together, but they can also divide us and prevent progress.
In the Christian tradition, Jesus is said to have had some rather unconventional ideas about family. He is quoted as saying: “If any come to me and do not hate their own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—they cannot be my disciples.” Pretty harsh words, particularly in a time and society where, according to the Jesus Seminar scholars, a person had no existence apart from ties to blood relatives, especially parents. The same scholars indicate these words from the gospels of Luke and Thomas, which appear in also in Matthew though tempered somewhat, likely come from Jesus. They maintain that “for Jesus, family ties faded into insignificance in relation to God’s imperial rule, which he regarded as the fundamental claim on human loyalty.” In other words, your values, should trump your family. If your clan, network, tribe, or family, is leading you astray from your highest ideals and values, then maybe you should reevaluate those relationships, perhaps even sever them.
Fortunately for us, as a church family in this religion called Unitarian Universalism, we are bound together by our values. (The word “religion” itself is derived from the Latin root “religare”—to bind together). Our values brought us here and they are the ties that bind us here, as are the relationships we form while here. There is no division between our values and this little clan of ours, even if our opinions, beliefs and journeys differ. Of course, we don’t always live up to those values, but at least we largely agree on them. May these values continue to guide us and “shine on” as we struggle for peace, justice and compassionate love in our families, in our church, in our community, in our nation, and in our world. Blessed be.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Our Dinner With István

Last night about thirty TJMers got together in the Social Hall for a delicious dinner.  We'd come together because we'd all been involved, in one way or another, with the visit this August of the Rev. István Török, his wife Melinda, and their daughter Karola.  The Töröks are all safely back in Transylvania (Romania) today, but our relationship with their family, and with the Unitarian Church in Oltheviz, most certainly continues.

And, so, the thirty of us shared dinner, reminisced about the visit, and then began to brainstorm ways to build on, and deepen, the connections that were made this summer.  We talked about live-streaming a shared worship service with them, or simply having István participate in one of our services (or me in one of theirs) via Skype.  We talked about having our choir sing, virtually, in their sanctuary.
But we also talked about real visits, as well.  Many congregations have had great success sending their choir on a performance tour of Unitarian Churches in Romania.  (Including, of course, their own partner church.)  And youth visits!  Oh the power of a such a pilgrimage on our youth.  (And the city of Kolasvár just won the right to host a gathering of European Unitarian youth in August 2015!  Wouldn't that be an amazing thing to participate in?)
And we could ask them to film a "virtual tour" of Oltheviz which they could share with us, and we could do one for them.  And István and I could collaborate on an Adult Faith Development program about Unitarianism's historic roots in Transylvania and how those roots have been nurtured and have developed in their native soil.
And these are just a few of the ideas we generated!  (There was a lot of energy in this discussion.)
There was a bittersweet moment -- when we presented Jean Sorrells-Jones (and her husband George) -- with a cake as a way of saying "thank you" for all she's done for our relationship with Oltheviz and to say "farewell" as they prepare to move to New Mexico to be with family.
But by far the highlight of the evening was when István himself appeared on our Social Hall wall, even thought it was nearly 2:00 am in Oltheviz!  He'd stayed awake so that he could Skype with us and help us remember that this is a living relationship.  It was so nice to hear his sweet, gentle voice again, and to see the delight and love in his eyes when he saw again the friends he'd made in Charlottesville.
We may be separated by an ocean, and by language and culture, but we are most definitely united in love.  What a wonderful night.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Color of Fear

Last evening a group of eight of us met to watch the film The Color of Fear.  This groundbreaking documentary follows eight men -- two African Americans, two Asian Americans, two European Americans, and two Mexican Americans -- as they spend a weekend together discussing issues of race.  It is raw, honest, and for many it's been revelatory.  Filmed in 1993, and released in 1995, these conversations are, unfortunately, timeless.  Some of the details have certainly changed in the ensuing years -- rather than lifting up Colin Powell as a sign there is no racism today the man who did so would today no doubt lift up President Obama -- but the underlying truth of the experiences being expressed and explored has not changed.

Nor has the need for European Americans to be exposed to this kind of conversation.  All too often we white folk are able to choose whether or not we're going to think about race, and whether or not we're going to engage with people of color on any real level.  For people of color, unfortunately, the reverse is not true.  This is one of the fundamental differences that whites so often overlook -- our ability not to deal with race and racism if we don't want to.

I remember when I first saw the film.  One of the moments that stood out for me -- and still strikes me -- is when Victor, one of the African American men, asks David, one of the European Americans, if he can't see that it means something that he, David, has no way of answering the question of what it means to be white.  White = human.  Yet in our discussion last night we noted that in this equation white = generic human, a human devoid of specificities.  In other words, not a whole person at all.

All of the people present last evening expressed a desire to continue meeting and talking, and I'm now looking at my and the church's schedules to see how to accommodate this desire.  (We're also likely going to find another date -- and perhaps a time during the day rather than at night -- to show the movie again.)  This kind of work is exactly what our Undoing Racism efforts were all about, and a part of what I've been calling The Jefferson Legacies Initiative.

Good things, important things, are happening here every day. 


PS -- if you're interested in learning more about the film, there is a FaceBook page dedicated to it formed, I believe, and moderated by one of the film's participants.  Check it out.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Wisdom Is Justified By Her Children

Yesterday, the Mid-Week Worship on our labyrinth invited participants to work in toward the center reflecting on their lives -- the lessons learned, the wisdom discovered.  Once at the heart, we were all encouraged to pick up some paper and a pen and commit to writing some wisdom we felt we should share with others.  Here's what we said:

What really matters is to love one another.
Don't settle for happiness -- go for joy.
Slow down and savor everything.
 Say "yes" as often as you can.
We are all on our own paths.
 Life is a tremendous gift.
Children are special.
We all make mistakes.
There will be pain.
Be open-minded.
We are all one.
Be accepting.
Take advice.
Don't hurry.
[Notice] moments of grace.
Don't be critical about things that are.
[Feel] impermanence and connection.
 Love, happiness, joy, peace come from within.
 Happiness is a choice between the following options: 
accept the situation, change the situation, break free of the situation.

On the altar in the center there was also a pile of scrolls, and each of us was invited to take one and encouraged not to read it until we returned home.  On each scroll were the well-known words of Desiderata.

This is the Unitarian Universalist way in a nutshell -- we embrace wisdom as we discover it, and we share wisdom as we know it.  Every conversation we have -- in our Covenant Groups, in the social hall after a Sunday service, in one of our RE classrooms, in meetings -- each and every conversation we have is an opportunity for us to learn or teach.  ("And/or" is probably more accurate.)  This blog, too.

So if there's something you'd like to see Talked about, drop me a line.  Remember, this isn't just one person's pet project, it's a new tool for communicating in and among our beloved community.  This blog is yours.  Let's use it as the vehicle it's intended to be to share the story of what TJMC is all about.


PS -- the title?  It's from the book of Luke in the Christian scriptures, and is the way Jesus is remembered as concluding one of his teachings.  Here is a link to a fascinating discussion of this somewhat odd text.  Enjoy . . .

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Serving With Grace

During 2012, The Board of Trustees created a Succession Planning Task Force (which was later renamed the Serving with Grace Task Force) and charged it to "gather information from the congregation in order to develop changes to the Bylaws and/or Policy Manual regarding term limits in volunteer, elected, and appointed positions within church governance and committees. In addition, this task force was charged to develop procedures to promote smooth, effective transitions in leadership in order to cultivate a positive culture of stewardship."

Sounds pretty bureaucratic, doesn't it?  That's one of the reasons for the name change, actually, because the group quickly realized that what they were looking into and what it sounded like they were looking into were two different things.  Essentially, they were exploring with the congregation what if means to be a leader in the church.  What it feels like.  What makes it hard.  What makes it work well.  In essence they were assessing how we, as a congregation, are doing with the care and feeding of our volunteers and how we could do a better job of it.  The "bureaucratic" piece turned out really to be the smallest part of it all.

As noted in yesterdays posting, the final report of this Task Force was received and discussed at Monday night's Board meeting.  An shorter version of the report was read at last year's Congregational Meeting, but there are lots of folks who aren't able to attend those meetings yet who are -- or who could be in the future -- involved in leadership here at TJMC.  And lots of people were involved -- through surveys and cottage conversations -- with helping the SWGTF develop it's recommendations. 

So following on the presentation of the report to the Board on Monday, it is now accessible on our web site.  It's really worth seeing what we had to say.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Your Board


Last night was the monthly meeting of your Board.  What an incredible group of people -- very different in personality and style but precisely the same in their passion for what's possible here at TJMC.  Each one of these twelve people has taken on this responsibility (on behalf of the rest of us) because they can say from their own personal experience how important TJMC has been to them, and because they know how important it can be to others.  (Both others who are already here and others who haven't even found us yet!)

So who are these wonderful people?  Amy Wissekerke is your President.  Walt Megonigal is your President-Elect.  Betty Warner is your Vice-President.  Ann Salamini is your Secretary.  The Rev. Jamie McReynolds is your Treasurer.  And filling out this team are At-Large Members:  Colleen Anderson, Marlene Jones, Don Landis, Kathy Philhour, Jim Rotherham, and Ian Sole.  Leia Durland-Jones, Trish Schechtman, and I are ex-officio members as well.  (Why are there only eleven names listed if there are twelve people on the Board?  Glad you asked.  Our immediate Past President, the sixth officer, needed to step down due to personal reasons.  Since there is no way to elect someone to be the immediate Past President, that role will remain vacant until the end of Amy's term.)

The officers meet together as an Executive Committee on the first Monday of each month (starting at 7:00 pm) in order to construct an agenda for the Board meeting and to attend to any urgent business, if there is any, that must be taken care of between meetings of the full Board.  The full Board meets on the third Monday of each month (starting at 6:30 pm).

Did you know that your Board has set time aside at the beginning of each of its monthly meetings to hear from any member (formal or informal!) who has something to say -- a question, a concern, an idea, some praise.  On the agenda this is noted as "public comment," and we also attend to any correspondence we have received.

Now I keep saying that this is "your" Board because, in truth, that's what it is.  This Board exists so that we don't have to try to get the nearly 450 members of our congregation together on a regular basis to conduct the ongoing business of the congregation.  But make no mistake -- this Board, like the others I've worked with here -- understand full well that they are at that table representing you and attend to issues with your best interests in mind.  It is your Board, just as it is your church.

So at last night's meeting we received a plethora of reports -- the President and Vice-President reported on the state of the church and the goings on here from their perspectives.  So, too, did Leia and I.  Sally Taylor gave us an update on our current figures of formal members -- 433 (including 28 youth members) -- and we received and discussed the report of the Treasurer.  We also received reports from Leadership Development, Stewardship, and Strategic Planning.

We also were updated on the status of the U-House sale, a preliminary report of the Committee on the Ministry's work to develop an evaluation process for our professional ministers, discussed the creation and implementation of a quick "pulse survey," and received and discussed the final report of the Serving With Grace task force.

Did you know that the minutes of all Board meetings are available online?

Monday, October 21, 2013

You Did This!

During yesterday's sermon the Rev. Dr. William Schulz told us about some of the specific work the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) has been doing, and some of the successes they've had.  And after each one he said, "You did that!  You and the UUSC."

It's more than a rhetorical device, you know.  That's one of the benefits of community.

You may have heard me quote a passage from the famous Unitarian minister the Rev. Edward Everett Hale.  If not me, then you've probably heard some other UU clergy person use it.  It's a favorite.  Because Edward Everett Hale was the kind of minister who was so involved in so many things that he was nicknamed, "Edward Everything Hale."  (No wonder he looks so tired in that picture we have of him at the top of the stairs to the basement!)  Yet even as involved as old Ed was, he has been quoted as saying,

"I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything; but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do."

I think this quote gets trotted out so often because we all understand it.  I am only one . . . I cannot do everything. Yet here's the cool thing about community, and the source of Bill's assertion -- when we join ourselves with others in community, we can do so much more than any of us can alone.

No one of us can do anything, but still we all can do something.  And when we work together in loving, supportive community, those somethings multiply.  So when JJ, and Glenn, and Johanna, and Sharon, and others go to Washington to protest the Keystone Pipeline, TJMC is there.  Even if you, personally, can't be.  Because we're part of a community.  When some of us volunteer to support PACEM, or the monthly food bank, or the UU-UNO, it's something that we're all doing.

Think about it -- when our feet walk we don't say that we're not walking because our hands aren't involved!  We know that each part of the body does it's thing as best it can, and the whole works together.  So, too, TJMC.  Whatever any of us do as part of the living, breathing church, we've all done it.

But this "body" is part of a bigger "body" -- and, so, when we as individuals and as a congregation support an organization like the UUSC, then it's actually true that the work "they" do is work "we're" doing.  And when we, as individuals and as a congregation, support the wider Unitarian Universalist movement, then it's actually true that whatever good works are done anywhere by UUs is work we are involved in.  This is one of the benefits of community.

"I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything; but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do."  And if you and I each do this, we can honestly look at each other and say, "You did this, too."


Friday, October 18, 2013

A Ministry In Small Groups

Many people think of the primary activity of the church -- any church -- as what goes on on Sunday mornings.  Between the expansive children's religious education program and what happens in the sanctuary -- Sunday is certainly the time that most people interface with TJMC.  But is it the moat important thing that we do?  I'm honestly not so sure.

When I was serving our congregation in Yarmouth, Maine the District Executive of the then Northeast District, a wonderful guy named Glenn Turner, brought to a gathering of UU clergy a new thing he wanted us to try -- small group ministry.  This was back in the 90s, and Unitarian Universalism was only just begining to explore this powerful paradigm which was already a staple in many Christian traditions.

In essence, small group ministry is just what its name suggests -- a ministry in and through small groups.  Its premise is that while Sunday morning may be the biggest and most visible thing that happens in a church it is not really possible for people's deepest needs to be met in such a venue.  Looking primarily at the adult experience, it is possible to deepen already existing relationships in something like a worship service, but it is hard to create new ones.  Where one hundred or more are gathered . . . well . . . it's just different than when it's two or three.

And, so, small group ministry is predicated on the notion that it is in small groups that we can most deeply make connections, take risks, and become more fully ourselves.  Experience has shown that a group of five to ten people is an ideal size for such groups -- less than five and there is a real loss of energy; more than ten and you begin to have too many for real sharing.

But small group ministry is not simply about getting people together in small groups.  It's also an intentional ministry -- consciously created so as to facilitate spiritual growth.  So there are guidelines.  Guidelines designed to increase the likelihood that real ministry will occur.  So, for example, there is no "cross talk" -- people are allowed to speak their piece without worry that someone else is going to jump right in and correct them or try to do them one better.  The person speaking gets to speak; the people listening actually listen.  And then there are mechanisms to make sure that no one speaks too much -- sucking all the air out of the room, as it were -- and that no one speaks too little.  No one is compelled, yet everyone is invited, to share.  And the guidelines are there to ensure that there will be room for everyones sharing.

TJMC has been engaged with small group ministry -- which we, like many other UU congregations, now call Covenant Groups -- for a number of years.  Those who've experienced them will say that they have become, for them, the beating heart of their church experience.  It is in these groups that real connections are formed, and it is here where lives are transformed.  It's been said of the family that it is where "you learn how to be yourself."  This makes TJMC's Covenant Groups "family" for those who are in them.

This past Sunday after the Sunday services the Covenant Group Coordinating Council (CGCC) met with the group's facilitators for our fall training.  There are now approximatetly eleven groups meeting -- most often twice a month for two hours each time.  One of the things that really struck me is that several of the groups are truly multigenerational.  There are UVA grad students in at least three of the groups, and these groups also have members in their 70s, 80s, and 90s!  Where else does that happen in our society?

If this sounds like Covenant Groups might meet a need of your soul, please talk with me or contact the church office.  I have a dream that some day we will have 80% - 90% of our total membership involved in one of these Covenant Groups.  Then . . . look out!


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Liberal Religious Educators . . .

Leia Durland-Jones, our Director of Religious Education is on her way to St. Paul, Minnesota, for the annual Fall Conference of LREDA, the Liberal Religious Educators Association.

During my time working at UUHQ I had the privilege of attending a LREDA Fall Conference, and I have to tell you -- it is a happening event!  Clergy are cool, and I enjoy the collegial camaraderie I get to experience when we gather, but RE Directors are, by and large, even cooler still. 

They're creative in a way you can only get after years of trying to figure out how to speak to the needs of a population that ranges from toddlers through teenagers.  (And in the increasingly prevalent "Lifespan Faith Development" model -- which we have here at TJMC -- the DRE is actually responsible for developing and providing programming for folks aged 0 to 100 or, as it's sometimes said, "from cradle to grave.")

And not only this, but RE Directors -- or Directors of Lifespan Faith Development -- usually have to do this on a shoestring budget and with an army of volunteers, many of whom are also parents and, so, helped and hindered by the exigencies of parenthood.  (Rare is the DRE who has not had to figure out how to do something with the fifth grade class because on Sunday morning they got calls from both of the assigned teachers explaining why they couldn't come in today.  This teaches one things . . .)

Below is a video that was sent out in advance of the conference, and I think it'll give you a flavor of the kind of thing Leia is going to be doing over the next few days.  Leia is also a member of the LREDA Integrity Team, which is described on the LREDA website this way:  "The LREDA Integrity Team positions LREDA to challenge its members to act as transformative leaders in growing inclusive congregations that model accountability, integrity and hope in the spirit of radical hospitality."  So Leia's going to be busy doing the work of this group while in St. Paul, too!

So when you next see Leia, be sure to ask her about what she learned and experienced. 


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Unitarian Universalist Trinity

Okay, maybe "trinity" is a little bit much, but I have to say that this triune model of leadership we're developing is unbelievably exciting.  (And effective, it seems!)  Some TJMCers may not be fully aware of how things have been evolving in the "upper echelons" of your servant leadership.  Here's a view:

In every Unitarian Universalist congregation the full power and authority lies in the congregation itself.  The congregation then delegates some of this power to its elected leaders -- the Board of Trustees.  In most congregations, however, the ordained clergy person -- aka, "the minister" -- is treated as if she or he "runs" the church.  In fact, in recent years it has become common to talk about "Minister-as-CEO."

That's never really made sense to me -- especially not for a Unitarian Universalist congregation.  I will fully acknowledge that I have some specialized knowledge, skills, and training.  No question about it.  (To paraphrase the famous juggling troop The Flying Karamazov Brothers, "I didn't go to Divinity School for nothing . . . it cost me thousands of dollars!")  I recognize that I have a particular ministry to perform in this community.  Yet I don't understand why that should translate into my "running" the church or being the final answer for any and every church question.

Recently I posted on my own blog a piece provocatively titled What if the DRE Ran The Church?  In it I mention the ideal of a shared leadership model, and I am very happy to report that that's exactly what we have here. 

When I first arrived in C'ville it was very clear that I would be working with a partner of tremendous skill and strength, Leia Durland-Jones, our Director of Religious Education.  And from the beginning it made sense for us to work together as peer/colleagues rather than the more traditional supervisor/supervisee relationship.  This worked wonderfully, and both of us, I believe, "upped our game."  When Trish Schechtman came on as our Director of Administration and Finance it only made sense to enlarge the circle.

And so, now, the three of us come together regularly to collaborate -- we share information, insights, observations, strategies, plans . . .  In fact, in our weekly scheduled (and frequent unscheduled) meetings we pretty much act as if we are what we are -- three professionals, each of whom  has her or his own distinct vantage point to look at this beloved community and who, together, are so much stronger than any of us is on our own.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Opening the Doors a Little Wider

 This past Saturday more than a dozen TJMC folk gathered in the Social Hall for a workshop that was titled  Opening Our Doors:  Removing Barriers to Hospitality.  I'd written last week about this event in an anticipatory way.  With The Talk of TJMC there's now a way to offer a fairly immediate impression of the experience of the event!

We began by saying a little something about who we are and what drew us to the workshop.  Some of us personally dealt with issues of mental illness; some of us have family members or friends who do; some were there because their role in the church made this workshop seem worthwhile.  Everyone there loves TJMC and wants to see its warm embrace grow ever larger.

What, we were asked, is the congregation already doing to reach out to, and be of service to, folks who are dealing with mental illness?  A similar, although actually distinct question, had to do with how we show our welcome.  As you can imagine, people's answers varied, although a common theme was that we could be doing more.

That led our facilitator, the wonderful Rev Alice Anderson of Mental Health America of Charlottesville Albemarle, to have us divide into groups of three to discuss how we could be more proactive.   Specifically -- what resources the church has to offer; how we can minimize the potential damage religion (yes, even UUism!) can cause for vulnerable people; and how the ministry of the church can complement professional services of therapists and doctors.

Again and again people spoke to the power of community.  More than once it was noted how important it is for people who identify as struggling with mental health and people who don't to have opportunities to mingle and get to know one another.  The successful (and popular) "4 x 4" dinners during the Welcoming Congregation process were one example of what this might look like.  And, of course, our covenant groups were lifted up as a valuable and powerful resource.  In these small groups people of dispirit backgrounds and experiences come together in covenanted fellowship -- and the deep bonding that can occur is palpable.

From talking about what resources we had to help TJMC be proactively more welcoming, we were asked to consider what we, as a group, could do to help move forward the evolution of our Mental Health Ministry.  All agreed that another workshop with Alice would be a good idea, and we noted that specific groups within the church -- ushers and greeters, for example, or pastoral visitors -- might benefit from specific, targeted training.

There's no way in a short blog post to detail everything that happened at the workshop -- and a more complete report-out is due in the near future.  I hope you get the flavor of the event here, and that it whets your appetite for the next course.


Monday, October 14, 2013

What's Going On? Committee on the Ministry

For most of the people who call TJMC "home," the most visible thing we do happens on Sunday mornings -- religious education with our children and youth, and worship in our sanctuary.  Most people are probably conscious that other things go on, yet if you're not directly involved with one or more of those "other things" the old adage out of sight, out of mind generally applies.

The workings of the Committee on the Ministry is one of those "other things" that happens out of sight.  The COM, as it's affectionately called by folks who like acronyms, consists of six people who are chosen by the Board from a slate recommended by the Lead Minister.  The current line-up is (in alphabetical order of first names):  Al Reynolds, Ann Salamini, Deborah Rose, Donna Baker, Kathy Philhour, and Pam Philips.  (This includes two current Board members and three past Board Presidents!  These are folks who know our church.)  You can, at any time, talk to any one of these fine folks to share your "joys and concerns" about how things are going at TJMC, or you can send an e-mail to CoM@uucharlottesville.org and it should come to all of us.

According to the bylaws of the church, the purpose of the COM is to "interpret, support, and monitor the ministries" of the church.  This is a larger portfolio than was carried by the older Pastoral/Parish Relations Committee, otherwise known as a Ministerial Relations Committee.  Nonetheless, a good bit of the COM's work is to help the professional ministers of our church hear the feedback that might otherwise not get to them, and helping those ministers continue to improve their ministry (which, etymologically, means their service) to the congregation.  This year, in particular, the COM has been charged by the Board to develop a process for the annual evaluation of our professional ministers' performance.  (This, you may recall, is one of your Board's goals for the 2013-2014 year.)

The Committee (currently) meets on the 2nd Thursday of the month.  So we just met.  And we discussed this charge.  We began by noting that there is a difference between evaluating the ministries of the church (which asks how we all are doing our job at moving forward the congregation's mission) and a performance review of the professional ministers (which asks how each of them is doing their jobs).  These two are not the same, although they are interrelated, and they are both quite important.  Our current discussions, as per the Board's request, are focused on the later.

This performance review could take several forms. One which shows promise is to use a new publication jointly created by the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association, and Education Development Center, Inc.  (A trivial aside -- I worked as a desktop publisher for EDC back when I was in seminary!  They do good work.)  The Publication is titled, Fulfilling the Call:  a model for UU Miinistry in the 21st century.  It takes the somewhat amorphous job of the ordained minister and distills it into nine general duties.  These, then, are further distilled into at least nine and as many as thirteen discreet tasks.  And then, for each of these duties and tasks, it provides a guideline for determining whether the person is demonstrating only basic competence, is approaching proficiency, demonstrates proficiency, or is performing at an expert or exceptional level.  (Copies of Fulfilling the Call are available in the COM slot in the TJMC mailroom if you'd like to check it out.)

The COM is going to use this matrix as the basis of our meetings going forward, each month focusing in on one of the areas.  This will form an on-going, formative review.  (The schedule of these discussion will be made public through multiple means so that feedback people might have regarding a particular area will be able to be included in our discussions.)  It is possible that this matrix could form the foundation of a formal evaluative tool, as well.  (There are, of course, other models that could be used to assess the performance of our professional ministers.  I'm checking in with the UUA and other congregations to see if there are any especially functional mechanisms already in use.)

In addition to the "how" of a ministerial review process, the Committee also discussed the "who."  Other staff members are reviewed by their direct supervisor, with a report going to the Personnel Committee and the Board.  But who is the director supervisor of "the minister"?  The Committee on Ministry itself?  The Board?  The entire congregation?  (Both formal and informal members?)  Should there be a small "task force" charged with collecting data from relevant "stake holders"?  And what is the balance between the congregation's right to know and the minister-as-employee's right to privacy?  These are questions that need to be wrestled with.

And all of this is to say that these questions are being wrestled with.  You may not see the COM in action, but it is -- actively interpreting, supporting, and monitoring the ministries of TJMC.  And that's a very good thing.


Friday, October 11, 2013

Coming Out; Come On In . . .

Today is the anniversary of the 1987 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.  It's also National Coming Out Day.  It is astonishing to me -- and to some people, no doubt, unbelievable -- that "coming out" is an issue anymore.  Yet it is.  Homophobia and heterosexism are, unfortunately, still alive and well.  And that means that far too many gays, lesbians, bisexual, and transgender persons are not well.  They still live in fear that the wider world will find out who they are.

This kind of closeted life takes a serious toll.  Not only does it mean hiding a part of who you are and worrying that someone -- the wrong someone -- will find out.  It also means living with the awareness that there are those -- and maybe a lot of "those" -- who do not "approve" of you.  I understand that there may be those who'd say that no one should care what anyone else thinks of them, but to live your life knowing that you are potentially unsafe and unwelcome virtually anywhere you go?

How can anyone live like that without harm?

Why should anyone have to?

I have been proud (more than once) to hear someone in a newcomer orientation class saying that they reason they'd begun exploring TJMC is that they'd seen our marriage equality banner.  (I even once heard someone once say that the reason they'd moved to Charlottesville was because on a drive through the area trying to decide where to locate they'd seen the banner on our church and decided that this town couldn't be all bad!)

It is so important, and such a wonderful thing, that TJMC is a UUA "Welcoming Congregation."  That we went through the process and received the accreditation, however, does not mean that we're done with the work.  And, as tomorrow's workshop on how to be more welcoming to people with mental health issues makes clear, being welcoming to LGBTQI folks is not the end of the story, either.

But on this National Coming Out Day we should honor those who, in the face of enormous risk, have come out to the world as people who do not conform to the heterosexual norm.  (Or, to put it another way, who've said to the world that it's okay to be who they are.)

Let us honor, too, all those who have embraced the come-outers, all those who are by that very act working to make the world a place where all of us can be our truest selves.

And let us encourage those who still live in fear and self-denial.  The tide is shifting.  The harsh sun of bigotry is giving way to the cooling shade of evening.  Love always wins.  In the end, love always wins.  Let's make sure that TJMC is, and remains, a place that demonstrates this is true.